Lights to go out across UK to mark World War One centenary

Heads of state and royals attend a commemoration ceremony to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I at the Cointe Allies' Memorial in Liege, Belgium on Monday.   | Photo Credit: Virginia Mayo

As the day ends on Monday August 4, the whole of Britain will be plunged in darkness for an hour in a Lights Out initiative to mark the centenary of the country’s entry into World War 1.

Homes, offices, private and public buildings, and even iconic structures like Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace and Windsor castle, will turn of their illumination from 10 pm for an hour.

Several official and unofficial events that have been planned over the last year will mark the day. They reflect and reinforce a war memorial sentiment that appears as diverse as the forms that memorialisation are taking in this country – from church services and vigils (on the day), to museum displays, creative reflections and expressions, community-driven projects on micro-histories of war, and even initiatives like the No Glory in War campaign. All these will in different ways examine the legacy and lessons emerging from World War 1 (1914-1918), which claimed the lives of 10 million soldiers and impacted the lives of countless others.

In Scotland, the Queen will attend a vigil in Balmoral to mark the day, as Prime Minister David Cameron, Prince Charles and several Commonwealth leaders attend a service in Glasgow Cathedral reflecting on the Commonwealth contribution to WW1.

In Westminster Abbey, the Duchess of Cornwall will extinguish the last candle left burning when the hour of memory begins.

At the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas, a candlelit vigil with costumed interpreters explaining their role in WW1 will be held.

Commonwealth British citizens have marshalled their own memories and histories of the war experience. The largest non-British component of the British fighting forces, and on which the imperial war machine heavily relied was from India. Nearly 1.5 million soldiers were drafted into the war effort. Of them 74,000 died. An exhibition on Sikh participation in the war is currently showing at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

The legitimacy of war is an important component of the commemoration debate and how WW1 has been presented. The issue resonates in many ways today – and not the least for the soldiers who fought in the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I was looking through my father’s diaries of 1917, and he writes about fighting in Bethlehem, Gaza, Jerusalem – all the places where war continues today,” said the elderly woman, one among the thousands, who thronged to the Imperial War Museum on August 4.

“Problems don’t get resolved. Seems all a bit futile doesn’t it?” she asks.

The distance of a century from the event offers new perspectives on the war and its presentation to a generation that has no historical or handed-down memories.

The refurbished WW1 galleries offer an extraordinary picture of the war and its apparatus: its history, politics, weaponry, economy; and the financial and human costs of war at the front and behind the lines.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Dec 2, 2020 9:04:19 PM |

Next Story